Most employees in California are allowed to have a thirty minutes meal break and other rest breaks throughout the day. The type and duration of break you are entitled to will depend on whether you are an hourly, salaried non-exempt or salaried exempt worker. If your employer fails to adhere to the California labor code regarding these breaks, you can sue them for compensation. At Workers Compensation Attorney Law Firm, we will guide you and represent you in the compensation claim proceedings. Our group of competent attorneys serve clients from Los Angeles, to ensure the best possible outcome for the claim.

Overview of Meal and Rest Breaks

  1. Meal Breaks

Meal breaks are unpaid, uninterrupted 30 minutes given to the employees by the employer. During these breaks, you can spend the time doing your business, such as taking meals or other errands they choose. Also, the number of breaks you are entitled to receive will be determined by the number of hours you worked. The thirty minutes break is an entitlement for employees who work for more than five hours in a day. The employer must allow you the meal break before the end of the fifth hour.

However, employees working more than 10 hours in a day must also be given a second thirty minutes break. This break should not come later than the 10th working-hour. You may, however, decide to waive one of your meal breaks. Rejecting a meal break does not have to be written as long as you agree with the employer. If you are entitled to two meal breaks, you can decide to skip one of the meal breaks. For a period to qualify as a meal break, the employer should:

  • Relieve you with all duties related to the work
  • Avoid controlling the activities you engage in during these breaks
  • Allow you to take an uninterrupted 30 minutes break

Also, the employer should refrain from:

  • Creating incentives to convince you to skip a meal break
  • Create a culture or assign you tasks that will hinder you from taking time off for a meal
  • Impede you or other employers from taking the meal breaks
  • Control what you do during your 30 minutes meal break.

If you feel that your employer has violated your meal break rights, you can file a compensation claim against them.

You are not entitled to any pay during the period you are out on a meal break. However, your employer may decide to provide payment for the breaks. Due to the lack of pay, some employees may choose to skip the meal break. However, for employees working more than six hours, even if you aren’t getting paid during the break, you are not allowed to waive it.

If your employer expects you to be on call during the meal break, it means that you have been relieved of your duties. In this case, you are entitled to compensation at the standard rate pay of the employer. For more details on your situation, it would be wise to consult an attorney.

On Duty Meal Breaks

There are some employment circumstances that may hinder you from taking your meal breaks. For example, if you are the only employee available for the job and you cannot leave the work area without an attendant. In such a situation, your employer may be required to provide an on-duty meal break. If you get an on-duty meal break, you are entitled to get paid for the break period. Both the employee and the employer should sign the agreement to take such a break. However, the employer has a right to revoke it at any time.

When you are spending your meal break on duty, you may be forced to take your meals in the workplace. The employer is expected to provide a conducive space for you to make your meals even when you are not performing work duties.

  1. Rest Breaks

California laws require employers to allow you a ten minutes break for each hour you are at work. If you work for seven hours, you are entitled to get two rest breaks, which are given after the first four hours and the other one after three last hours. Employees who work less than three hours are not entitled to rest breaks. The rest breaks must be ten consecutive minutes, during which you should be relieved of all of your work-related duties.

Also, the employer is expected to provide a resting facility within the workplace where you can spend your rest breaks. Unlike the meal breaks, the rest break is paid, and your employer does not have a right to deduct pay for the time spent during lunch breaks. Skipping or missing a rest break should be entirely your decision, and you should not be concerned about doing so.

Other than the usual 10 minutes breaks to rest from work, California employers are required to allow breaks to lactating mothers to express milk. However, the law does not permit mothers to breastfeed their children at work. Since the employer is required to provide an onsite childcare facility, you can take the opportunity to breastfeed your child.

Most of the lactation breaks are taken during the usual meal and rest breaks, but the employer must provide additional time if necessary. Employers are expected to make a reasonable effort to create a private space for lactating mothers to express breast milk. However, if the activity will affect operations at the workplace, the employer is exempt from this law.

If you are filing a claim against your employer for denying you the lactation break, it is essential to seek representation from a competent workers' compensation attorney.

Employees’ Entitled to Meal and Rest Breaks in California

Exempt Employees

Employees who are considered to be exempt from the standard lunch break requirement are people working as:

  1. Executive Employee

Your employment capacity is deemed to be executive if your primary duty is managing a department in the business. Also, if you do not carry out your tasks and delegate them to other employees, you are an exempt worker. Since you will receive little or no supervision when carrying out these tasks, the meal and rest breaks do not apply to you.

  1. Administrative Employees

An administrative employee not only receives a fixed salary, but they also don’t do manual work. If you are helping to run a business, the meal and rest break law does not apply to you.

  1. Professional Employees

Professional employees who qualify for exemptions are licensed individuals certified by the state. Also, individuals with a piece of advanced knowledge are considered exempt. If you meet the above criteria, the employer does not have to pay you for breaks.

Under California labor laws, if you are an exempt employee, you are entitled to meal breaks but not rest breaks. California meal and rest period requirements will apply only to non-exempt employees. The most significant group of exempt employees is the white-collar employees who must:

  • Spend at least half of their time in the job doing managerial and creative duties
  • These employees carry out the responsibilities with utmost discretion and independent judgment
  • Their earnings should be at least twice the minimum wage of a California minimum wage worker in the full-time employment period

Generally, you will only get considered an exempt employee if you are paid on a salary basis and not on an hourly basis. For exempt and non-exempt workers, a salary is a minimum amount of pay, which does not vary regardless of the number of hours you are present at work. To enjoy the salaried worker labor law privileges, your employer cannot deduct pay for partial absenteeism at work.

Unionized Employees

In California, lunch break laws do not apply to some unionized employees. This includes workers in industries who have collective bargaining agreements providing other requirements for lunch breaks. Some of the sectors with unionized employees include:

  • Commercial drivers
  • Construction occupants
  • Public utility companies
  • Motion Picture industries

Independent Contractors

Under the California Labor Code, lunch and rest breaks do not apply to workers who qualify as independent contractors. There are specific factors that determine whether you are an independent contractor or an employee. You will be considered an independent contractor if you perform duties for another person with a promise to get paid after a specific result. Also, you have control of how you want to play the tasks assigned to you. Since you control how and when you will be working, you are not entitled to the mandatory meal and rest breaks. Your employer establishes that you run a business similar to the task you are allowed to perform; you will be classified as an independent contractor.

Your employer has no right to cancel or delay your meal and rest breaks unless you willingly decide to waive them. If the employer compels you to go back to work before the break period ends, it will be considered a denial of the break. Failure of the employer to give a meal or rest break is regarded as a violation of California labor laws.  After allowing the breaks, the employer is not obliged to make sure that you go for the break. If you continue to work during the break voluntarily, your employer cannot be held responsible for the act.

Filing a Lawsuit Against Your Employer for Denied Breaks

As a California employee, you can file a lawsuit against your employer for failing to give you meal and rest breaks. While some employers fail to provide meal breaks out of ignorance for the labor laws, others do it as a strategy to save money. Some of the ways in which employers may plan to deny your meal and rest breaks are by misclassifying you as an exempt employee. Sometimes you are not sure of what type of employee you are. That is why employers will use the opportunity to classify you where they are not expected to give you rest breaks. Common indications that you are misclassified as an exempt employee are:

  • Minimum salary requirement. Even when working on a part-time basis, exempt employees cannot get paid lower than the minimum wage. Therefore, if you earn less than twice the minimum wage, you cannot be classified as an exempt worker.
  • Hourly pay rate. Generally, exempt employees are not paid at an hourly rate. Most of these employees have fixed salaries, which cannot be deducted regardless of the number of hours you spend at work. If your employer regularly reduces your wages for missing work, you can get misclassified as exempt.
  • Change of job descriptions. Sometimes you can lose the exempt employee status if your duties are changed. An exempt employee should perform professional and managerial responsibilities. If your duties vary from those required, you can sue your employer for misclassification and denial of break periods.

Non-exempt employees are eligible to a thirty minutes break after every six working hours and regular 10 minutes rest breaks. On the other hand, exempt employees are not entitled to rest breaks or overtime since their salary is twice as much as the minimum hourly wage. Some employers will intentionally classify you as exempt based on their financial gain motives. Also, your employer may misclassify you for the following reasons:

  • So that they avoid providing you with a lunch break
  • If they do not want to provide you with regular rest breaks
  • The employer requires you to be on the job during your work breaks

If your employer misclassified you so they can deny your breaks, you could file a lawsuit against them.

California employers face harsh penalties for violating meal and rest breaks. The consequences will include heavy penalties and fines. Also, you are eligible to file a compensation claim against them. An employer who intentionally denies you a meal or rest break has a responsibility to compensate you for one hour worth of pay per day of violation. This is because each time spent working during the break is part of working hours and is entitled to payment. If they fail to pay you, you may decide to handle the dispute informally with the employer. Alternatively, you can file a wage claim or file a lawsuit in court against your employer.

If you decide to file a claim, you will do it at the local Division of Labor Standards Enforcement office. The case will then be assigned to a commissioner who will decide on how to proceed with the case depending on the individual circumstances of your claim. The case will then be sent to the conference. The conference aims to determine the validity of applications and either send the matter for hearing or dismiss it due to lack of evidence.

At the conference stage, both parties must be present. The employer does not have to respond to the invitation but is expected to appear for the hearing. The commissioner will call for action in the dispute to recover penalties or demand for your compensation. In this stage, it is not mandatory to get representation from an attorney.

Under California Labor Code Section 98(a), If the claim is not settled. The commissioner decides to take the case for hearing. The trial aims to find a faster way of resolving the complaint. Subpoenas will be set out to both parties inviting them to show up for the hearing. In such a trial, it is essential to seek legal guidance and representation from a worker’s compensation attorney. During the hearing:

  • Questions will be asked to both parties and the witnesses they may bring to the trial. When attending the trial, you should prepare a witness who will support your case.
  • Cross-examination of documents will be presented as evidence for the claim. Documents that will come in handy for a meal and rest break denial claim is the company handbook. They will determine what the company policies require for the employees and if the employer violated any of the written rules. Also, documents indicating that you signed for an on-duty break or you waved your break will be presented.

After both parties are heard, the labor commissioner will give a written order to both parties showing the final ruling. If you are successful in the claim against your employer, you can recover compensation for denied meal and rest breaks. Unless the decision is appealed, the judgment is binding and has to be respected by both parties.

Meal and Rest Breaks for Employees FAQ

Meal and rest breaks for California workers are complex and technical. Failure of employers to comply with these laws can attract a lawsuit. If you are successful in the claim, you can recover compensation benefits for the hours you were on break. The following are some of the frequently asked questions regarding the meal rest breaks for salaried or exempt employees in California:

  1. To what extent can an employer monitor the meal and rest breaks for their employees?

Most employers will consider publishing meal and rest break policies in the employee handbook. Also, monitoring will be done to ensure that employees comply with those policies. However, Under California labor law, the employer will not be able to control what you decide to do during your meal break. However, they cannot expect you to be on call during this time. As long as they allow the breaks, your employer is not responsible for ensuring you go for your break.

  1. When can an employee decide to waive their meal and rest breaks?

Although you have a right to waive your meal and rest breaks, the waiver should only happen in specific circumstances. If you are scheduled to work for six or fewer hours, you can decide to skip the meal breaks. However, your employer may require you to indicate the decision in writing to protect themselves from accusations of break denial. In circumstances where your job description does not allow you to go for meal breaks, the employer may arrange for on-duty meal breaks, which have to get paid.

  1. Do bathroom breaks count in the ten-minute rest breaks?

No. The 10-minute rest breaks between working hours are not designed for bathroom breaks only. That is why employers are required to provide a conducive rest place other than the toilets. When your employer allows you to use the restroom during work hours, it does not count as part of the rest break. However, employees are expected to limit the amount of time they are absent at their work stations.

  1. What is the applicable statute of limitations for filing meal and rest break claims?

Under California Labor Code Section 226.7, you must file the rest break claims within three years of the alleged violation. If you do it beyond the three years, your application will get denied, and you won’t be eligible for compensation.

  1. What happens if an employer retaliates against me for filing a claim of denied rest periods?

Sometimes employers may retaliate against you for calling them out on the breaks denial. If your employer discriminates you or lays you off from the job for objecting to deny breaks, you can file a discrimination complaint or lawsuit against them.

Find a Los Angeles Workers Compensation Lawyer Near Me

California employment law requires employers to give their employees time to rest in between their shifts. If you feel that you have been denied your rest and meal breaks, you can file a claim against your employer. A successful request will see you get compensation equivalent to at least two hundred and fifty hours’ worth of pay. To pursue such a request, it is essential to seek legal representation from a competent workers' compensation attorney. For further information on these rights or to discuss your case confidentially contact the Workers Compensation Attorney Law Firm. If you are in Los Angeles, CA, you will need us in your corner. Call us today on 310-956-4277 and allow us to help you pursue your claim.